Tips for Lean Managers

Value Stream Maps & Right Brain Thinking

By Jon Miller Published on February 6th, 2005

With the increasing commitment of major firms to TPS-based Lean initiatives, Value Stream Maps are increasingly becoming items seen in board rooms as well as kaizen team rooms. George David, Chairman and CEO of United Technologies is said to have created a minor storm of activity across UTC divisions when he mandated that he would review Value Stream Maps on all visits to UTC sites. One can imagine the calls of “What’s a Value Stream Map?” and “Where do I get one?” by panicked General Managers.
While this is a wonderful thing on one hand, it creates problems for the people to whom Value Stream Mapping has been delegated. Lean Manager at Parker Hannifin, another fine company pursuing Lean in a serous way, bemoaned to us the fact that he had spent nearly a week “rolling up and typing in” Value Stream Maps for each and every value stream at his division’s sites to fulfill a requirement to submit digital evidence of Current State maps to Corporate. This is time not spent improving things on the factory floor.
It is time consuming and awkward to put Value Stream Maps in a digital format. Lean Champions must essentially create Microsoft Visio or PowerPoint diagrams which are woefully inadequate for the size and scope, much less the embedded data, of Value Stream Maps.
Digital photos of value stream maps are of course impractical to edit and can be very large to store and share via e-mail. I have yet to find an application for my PDA that lets me doodle effectively. A elegant (yet pricey) solution is the tablet PC which allows you to write and take notes directly on the laptop computer screen. One of these days these will be as affordable as laptops are becoming, but until then, back to the debate.
Because of this difficulty with digital VS Maps, there has been a running debate on the comparative benefits of creating Value Stream Maps (VSM) by pencil and paper versus on computer using software. Most trainers and VSM gurus will insist on paper and pencil. Most Lean Champions and practitioners hate the task for taking a 15 foot by 4 foot piece of paper and sitting in front of a computer screen for yours typing and clicking until the map is in digital format. “Can’t we just create the VS Map in the computer to start with?” the Lean Champions say. “No.” the VS Mapping trainers say. The debate goes on. Both sides of this debate have merits.
The fact is that there has until recently been no good way of capturing the maps created by hand on computer for the purpose of storage, presentation, and sharing. If maps could quickly and easily be converted, then it would be no trouble to draw them in pencil and store them digitally. Thankfully, the recently released iGrafx suite of products from Corel (Flow Charter, Process for Six Sigma) do an elegant job of mapping not only Value Stream Maps but Flow Charts, Business Process Maps, and other tools. Gemba Research not only openly endorse these products, but we are a reseller and provider of training for these products.
Let me clarify that what I mean by Value Stream Mapping is Toyota’s ‘Material & Information Flow’ diagrams as introduced and adapted in the book “Learning to See”. Even to this day some use Business Process Mapping, Flow Charting, and Value Stream Mapping interchangeably, even though each is different in both look and function. There have been good tools for creating flow charts and BP maps for quite a while, so this debate does not cover them.
I have to admit that I am of the “pencil and paper” school, but one who has always wished for a good way to copy the paper maps into digital value stream maps. “If there is a good digital method of creating maps, why bother with pencil and paper?” you may ask. There are several good reasons for drawing maps first with pencil, by hand.
First, it is a good idea to keep people away from computers for much of the time during a kaizen event or any rapid improvement session. A training room with laptops and wireless connections to the internet is not the best learning environment. If you are sitting at a desk with a computer this means for most of us in manufacturing that we are far away from the Gemba (the place where you add value, i.e. the factory).
This is why Japanese consultants berate kaizen team members who are quick to leave the Gemba and work on their presentations rather than on improvements on the factory floor. One of my less patient Japanese teachers made his point by using a permanent marker to draw a large “X” across the screen of a CAD machine as a way to tell the engineer to go see what was happening on the factory ‘genchi gembutsu’ style. Although it was effective, I do not recommend this approach.
I recently heard the most compelling reason for starting with pencil and paper from Cindy Jimmerson of Lean Healthcare West. Drawing the sketches of trucks or warehouses, arrows, boxes and people on a Value Stream Map is a creative activity that uses the right hemisphere of the brain. Studies have shown that right-brain activity helps people come up with creative solutions during problem solving. Much of Lean can be reduced down to left-brained, linear, mathematical principles, if we are to be honest. However, helping people make the cognitive leap to recognizing that there is a problem with the Current State and that another way is possible requires help from the right brain.
A final reason is that kaizen activity and Lean improvements must be done as a team rather than as individual projects in an office with a computer. Value Stream Maps should be created by involving as many people from a wide, cross-functional range as possible so that different perspectives are taken into account and polarizing and limiting “group think” can be avoided. Value Stream Maps should allow many people to get their measuring wheels, stop watches, pencils, and post-its out so that they can use their eyes and hands to learn.
At the end of the day what is most important is that you map your value streams and that you make use of the maps you created to kaizen the processes in your value streams. Exaclty how you do it is secondary, but a decision you must consider ahead of time so that digital storage and sharing of vital Value Stream data does not become a stumbling block to improving.

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